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STEM signature program has LWSD students focusing on the real world

Sarah Herron (left) and Thomas Barnett work together on a lab during a recent class for Redmond High School’s STEM signature program. The program is focused on global health. - Samantha Pak, Redmond Reporter
Sarah Herron (left) and Thomas Barnett work together on a lab during a recent class for Redmond High School’s STEM signature program. The program is focused on global health.
— image credit: Samantha Pak, Redmond Reporter

With the school year more than halfway through, 19 seniors at Redmond High School (RHS) will soon be the first-ever class to complete the school’s new science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) signature program.

The program is one of seven signature programs currently in or soon to be in all of the high schools in the Lake Washington School District (LWSD) that focus on STEM education and integrate three different subjects.

INTEGRATING SUBJECTS

The RHS program’s focus is global health, specifically policies, problems and solutions. The three-period instructional block is taught by Christine McMillan, Gregg McDonald and Myra Arnone, who teach English, social science and science, respectively.

So far this year, topics the students have studied include communicable diseases, HIV, tuberculosis, non-communicable diseases and maternal and infant health. Future units include public health and refugee health.

McDonald said their program is based on an introductory global health class at University of Washington (UW) and starting next year, students will be able to receive college credit through the UW.

“The kids are really doing college work,” Arnone said.

The three subjects are integrated with the curriculums relating to one another. For example, when studying cancer, students will learn about the biology of the disease from Arnone, learn about how the disease affects people in different parts of the world from McDonald and read fiction and non-fiction works in which characters are dealing with cancer through McMillan’s English class.

McDonald said through this, the students receive a more rounded picture of any given topic.

FOCUS ON THE REAL WORLD

This integration as well as a focus on problem- and project-based learning has shown students how what they’re learning applies to the real world.

For example, for one project, students had to create a toilet that could be used specifically in Haiti after the devastating earthquake in 2010. For another project, the students had to write a proposal for global funding as if they were turning it in to the United Nations.

“It’s been much more challenging than I expected,” said senior Blake Roberts.

Roberts signed up for the STEM program because he plans to go into the science field and likes the idea of integrating it with other subjects. He said since he’s been in the class, he no longer has to ask how his new knowledge is applicable. Roberts said he has also enjoyed the discussions the class has gotten into — even when debates became heated — admitting that his mind has been changed in some cases due to listening to what his classmates have said.

“I definitely love our discussions,” agreed senior Sarah Herron, adding that the talks have become more advanced than she thought was possible in high school.

Herron, who plans to go into global health when she gets older, admits that she is not the best at science but said she has also enjoyed the various speakers they have had in class. She said with the Seattle area being a hub for the global health field, the program at RHS has allowed them to meet various people and explore different aspects of the field.

So far this year, the class has visited the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, Seattle BioMed and the Brightwater Treatment Plant.

McDonald added that the three-period block of time dedicated to the classes also makes it easier to plan these visits as they don’t have to worry about pulling students out of other classes.

A DISTRICT-WIDE PROGRAM

RHS is one of four LWSD high schools that have launched STEM signature programs this year. Emerson, Juanita and STEM high schools are also in their pilot years. Next year, Eastlake, International Community and Lake Washington high schools will launch their STEM signature programs.

Jeremy Cromer, who will be part of the teaching team for Lake Washington High School’s (LWHS) program, said he is looking forward to next year. LWHS’s program will focus on engineering with Cromer teaching engineering, Tammie Bechtel teaching physics and Veronica Schmiedeskamp teaching English.

Cromer has worked in a team teaching environment in the past and said it was interesting to see how other teachers approach their subjects and to learn from them.

“It was actually kind of cool,” he said. “It was very rewarding.”

Just as McDonald and Arnone have experienced, Cromer said his experience collaborating with other teachers from different subjects has allowed him to see students really understand a topic.

“You started seeing lightbulbs that you don’t normally see,” he said about the moments when students would really understand a concept.

It is this type of deep understanding that Cromer is looking forward to in the coming year when LWHS will launch its STEM signature program.

“I’m excited to get this program off the ground,” he said. “I think it’s going to be a fantastic course for kids. I wish they had it when I was in high school.”

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